The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Zero Trust Network Access

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Zero Trust Network Access

Zero-trust networks provide security at a micro-level by verifying the identity of users and devices at every network point. This mitigates the risks of cybersecurity attacks and minimizes the impact on business operations.

Identity-Based Segmentation

It is essential to define ZTNA to understand how it works. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) is an IT security solution that provides secure remote access to an organization’s applications, data, and services based on clearly defined access control policies. Many organizations have layered a patchwork of firewalls, web gateways, and network access control solutions to protect their networks. This creates a security perimeter that is difficult to understand and manage. Additionally, ensuring that users are only granted access to the application functions and data they need becomes hard. Identity-based micro-segmentation is a vital component of the Zero Trust network security framework. By enabling granular access controls based on user and device identities, it is possible to prevent attacks from occurring within the internal network. It also eliminates the need for reliance on IP addresses and other network constructs to limit access. This approach to cybersecurity is built on the principle of “never trust, always verify.” Removing network location as a position of advantage and constantly verifying users, devices, and applications eradicates the concept of trust and prevents lateral movement inside the internal network. It also enables the use of least privilege access, giving users the information they need on a need-to-know basis. Identity-based microsegmentation and Zero Trust are critical components of a secure transformation journey. By implementing this strategy, it is possible to meet strict compliance standards, adapt to the rising cost of cyber insurance, and build a robust network that can withstand evolving threats.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication is one of the critical elements in Zero Trust Network Access. This security technique ensures that the person accessing a system is the user upon login. Traditionally, this would be assured by standard credentials entered when signing in, typically a username and password. With MFA, a cybercriminal must successfully attack the user in multiple ways to impersonate them. This makes the job exponentially more complicated and provides robust protection against breaches. MFA typically requires a combination of something the user knows, or knowledge factors, such as a pin PIN or secret question; something they have, or possession factors, such as a fob or mobile device; and something they are, or biometric, such as a fingerprint or retina scan. This is in contrast to single-factor authentication (SFA), where only one proof of identity is required. MFA with Zero Trust policies allows a company to limit a breach’s “blast radius” by continuously verifying access based on all available data points, such as location, device, service, and workload. This approach is fundamental with the rise of hybrid and remote work, dramatically increasing a company’s exposure to breaches. Combined with Single Sign-On (SSO), MFA can significantly simplify the login process for users and make it more secure while also improving compliance.

Why zero trust could fail due to lack of understanding​, not technology


Network Access Control (NAC)

NAC provides visibility into devices on the network and allows organizations to authenticate those devices. By detecting and profiling the device, security policies can be applied dynamically, and access is denied for unauthorized or risky devices. These capabilities are foundational to Zero Trust. Organizations need to be able to provide temporary, limited access to guests and partners while ensuring they don’t have full, unfettered access to critical resources. NAC solutions help by allowing them to register guest and partner devices through a portal, requiring authentication before they are granted network access. These users and their devices can also be monitored for compliance with security policies as they move across the network to prevent the lateral movement of malware. As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, BYOD and work-from-anywhere initiatives have become commonplace. This has made it essential to deploy tools that can help manage these new security challenges. NAC is one of those tools that can help by enabling organizations to authenticate users on any device, wherever they are, without compromising network integrity. A good NAC solution will scan a device’s terminal before connecting to the corporate network and assess its security posture, including antivirus software and patch updates, password strength, and other vital factors. It can also block a terminal from accessing the network if it fails to pass this security check and automatically repair any issues promptly.

Policy-Based Access Control (PBAC)

When implementing Zero Trust Network Access, a PBAC system helps ensure that employees have access to the data they need when they need it. This is done by fusing the business roles of users with policies that define what kind of access privileges they should have. This is a different approach to other traditional access control models, which often use static rules that don’t consider the user or device’s context and are, therefore, more vulnerable to attack. In a PBAC system, attributes like identity, device, and location are used in Boolean formulas to determine what kinds of access privileges should be granted. This could be as simple as allowing a manager working from home to access a specific file folder, or it could be much more complex. The goal is to grant access only if all the criteria are met, which prevents data breaches and compliance violations. It’s important to know that a zero-trust architecture takes time and requires the correct set of tools, processes, and skills to make it work. However, it’s worth the effort to implement these best practices, which will help protect your organization from future data breaches and other cybersecurity risks.